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Fixing Medical Record Errors Should Be Easier In Age of EHRs

Posted on December 14, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the advent of EHRs made it more likely that information in medical records was accurate? Sadly, that’s hardly the case.

In fact, patient matching issues actually seem to make it more likely that the wrong patient data makes it into a chart. Add problems with busy physicians making the occasional cut-and-paste error, and you can have a real mess on your hands.

I was thinking about this today when I read the story of Morgan Gleason, a woman who went through a struggle to get documentation of two non-existent pregnancies out of her medical records. Gleason, who suffers from a rare autoimmune disease, is a pro at managing her health, but had to fight hard to correct these errors, according to a CNBC story.

Gleason’s tale begins two years ago when she requested her medical records after a visit to a Florida women’s health clinic. With the help of her mother, who worked at health IT firm CareSync, Gleason stored all of her medical records in one place once she received them.

When she received the clinic records, she was surprised to find notes saying that she had two children, one living and the other having died shortly after being born. Gleason had never been pregnant.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time she found a serious mistake in records. In the past, she told CNBC, a diagnosis of diabetes apparently popped up in her records, which was also erroneous data.

In this case, when she called the clinic to report the error an assistant on the other end of the line told her that she was wrong about her own medical history.

Gleason told CNBC that the assistant simply wouldn’t listen to her. “If you hadn’t told us this, there’s no way this could have been in your chart,” the assistant reportedly told her. The clinic didn’t change the record until Gleason made a formal request for it to be changed.

I can understand why the clinic might have wanted the changes to be requested in writing. Changing a patient’s record does have legal significance. At the same time, though, providers should have an easy-to-explain process in place for making appropriate changes.

In my view — particularly as someone with chronic illnesses — it’s inexcusable when an institution makes it hard for patients to correct mistakes. On the contrary, medical practices and facilities should be delighted if someone does the quality control for them, rather than leaving them open to liability when they make mistakes based on incorrect documentation.

Now more than ever, it seems to me to the culture of resisting patient interaction with their records has got to go. If you’re not sure how patients are treated when they make such requests, I encourage you to try and make such changes yourself and see how far you get.

 

Physician Group Cited For Sharing Patient Data Without Business Associate Agreement

Posted on December 12, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A group providing hospitalist physicians on contract has learned the hard way that sharing PHI with vendors is a no-no unless the vendor has signed a business associate agreement. The group, Advanced Care Hospitalists, which serves west-central Florida, has been fined $500,000 for this oversight along with other derelictions of its HIPAA duties.

Between November 2011 and June 2012, ACH farmed out medical billing to an individual identifying himself as a representative of a Florida-based company named Doctor’s First Choice Billings, Inc. (In an unusual twist, this individual apparently signed the ACH deal without knowledge or permission of First Choice’s owner, which raises other questions beyond the scope of this article.)

Later, in February 2014, a hospital let ACH know that patient information was viewable on the First Choice website, including name, date of birth and social security number. Of course, ACH’s first move was to ask First Choice to take the data off of the website. Then, it surveyed the damage done.

After assessing the situation, ACH notified the HHS Office for Civil Rights about the breach. The group eventually concluded that more than 9,000 patients could have been affected. In response, OCR conducted an investigation into the breach — and reviewers weren’t exactly happy with what they found.

The OCR concluded that ACH never entered into a business associate agreement with the individual, which HIPAA requires.

What’s more, it found that despite being in business since 2005, ACH didn’t have a policy requiring that it sign business associate agreements with relevant vendors until April 2014 (another HIPAA foul) and had neither conducted a risk analysis nor implemented security measures or other written HIPAA policies before 2014 (additional, major HIPAA fouls).

Given the extent to which its HIPAA compliance, well, didn’t exist, OCR is asking for more than the $500K.  ACH has agreed to a corrective action plan including the adoption of business associate agreements, a thorough risk analysis cutting across its entire business and the development of comprehensive policies and procedures needed to comply with HIPAA rules.

Perhaps if ACH had demanded that the unnamed medical billing contractor sign a business associate agreement, it might have avoided the patient data breach, or perhaps not. If nothing else, though, the hospitalist group might have stood a better chance of knowing with whom it had actually contracted with, which certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

Problematic Medical Bills Drive Consumers To Cut Back On Care

Posted on November 7, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As we all know, patients and families are taking over responsibility for a steadily greater percentage of their healthcare costs over time. Not surprisingly, this can affect their medical decisions in negative ways. In fact, a new study has documented that their medical bills are confusing or unexpected, a patient may get overwhelmed and simply skip some forms of care entirely.

The study, which was conducted by Hanover Research and sponsored by HealthSparq, surveyed more than 1,000 Americans on their experiences with unexpected medical bills. The results should be unsettling to anyone in outpatient services, especially those in primary care.

Researchers found that more than half (53%) of respondents had received a surprise medical bill over the past 12 months. This included bills that were higher than expected (60%), for services they thought were covered by insurance but weren’t (62%) and from multiple providers when they expected to get just one (42%).

When faced with these frustrating billing situations, patients may drop out of their care routine to some extent. Many skip routine checkups (40%), routine health screenings (39%) or care for injuries (39%).

A substantial number of respondents (40%) conceded that they could’ve avoided such shocks by doing more to better understand their benefits and healthcare processes, in addition to blaming their insurers (45%) or their health providers (42%). Regardless, it appears that a large number didn’t know who was responsible for the problem, which doesn’t bode well for their future health behavior.

Look, everyone knows that offering an accurate estimate of patient financial liabilities could be a nightmare in some situations, particularly if insurance companies don’t play nicely with the billing department. It’s also true that in some cases, patients simply won’t be able to pay the bill regardless of how you present it, a problem you certainly can’t surmise on your own as a medical practice.

That being said, you can take a look at the bills your practice management system produces and get a sense whether they’re decipherable to those who don’t work within the organization. Even if the PM system does a good job of supporting your end of the process, that doesn’t mean it’s turning out bills that patients can use and understand.

Yes, arguably the most important thing a practice management system does is to support your claims process effectively, but seeing to it that patients aren’t overwhelmed by their bills is clearly a big deal too. Particularly under value-based care, you can’t afford to have them holding off on the services that will keep them well.

Quality Payment Program Tops List Of Regulatory Burdens On Medical Practices

Posted on October 10, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new survey by the Medical Group Management Association has found that meeting the demands of the Medicare Quality Payment Program tops the list of regulatory burdens named by respondents in medical practices.

The survey, which collected responses from 426 medical groups, found that their regulatory burdens were climbing, with 86% reporting that such burdens had increased over the past 12 months. A smaller but similar share of respondents (79%) reported that the overall regulatory burden associated with participating in Medicare specifically had increased during the same period.

When asked to name the regulatory requirements they considered to be very or extremely burdensome, 88% named the Quality Payment Program, followed by prior authorization (82%), lack of EHR interoperability (80%), government EHR requirements (77%) and audits/appeals (68%). In contrast, just 49% of respondents saw compliance with HIPAA privacy and security requirements to be a major concern.

Given the challenges it imposes on practices, it’s no wonder that the MGMA respondents struggle with MIPS, with just 9% stating that they were satisfied or very satisfied with the performance feedback the program offers. Two-thirds of respondents told the MGMA that at least in its current form, MIPS doesn’t support their practice’s clinical quality priorities.

Perhaps the most irksome aspects of the MIPS program seemed to be the full-year quality reporting period and scoring methodology. Roughly two-thirds of respondents were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with these aspects of the program. “The lack of clarity and constant readjusting of the MACRA regulations regarding MIPS/APMs is also frustrating,” one group member said.

In addition, despite ongoing efforts to support patient data exchange, the percent of respondents who rated a lack of EHR interoperability as very or extremely burdensome has climbed over the last 12 months, from 68% last year to 80% in 2018.

Ultimately, this problem could have serious financial consequences for some organizations. “Interoperability will never be achieved at the rate we’re going without bankrupting most private medical practices,” wrote one respondent. “As each of the EHR vendors moves towards their own interpretation of interoperability, they create different versions of their own software that cost all of us more to implement and we can’t afford any more.”

If these issues aren’t addressed, it seems likely Medicare’s drive toward value-based payment will be less successful than its leaders would hope.  Seventy-nine percent of practices responding to the MGMA survey said they didn’t think the move toward value-based payment had been successful to date, and it doesn’t seem likely that this will change if physicians continue to feel overburdened and misunderstood

A Next Step For Personalized Medicine? Vendor Brings Genomics To Ambulatory EHR

Posted on October 8, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most physicians have some sense of the value personalized medicine can bring to their practice, but I doubt that many have ready access to the tools they’d need to harness its power.

In an effort to close that gap – and of course, to make its platform irreplaceable – a vendor serving medical practices has struck a deal giving physicians the ability to order genetic tests and leverage them to improve care.

The vendor, DrChrono, offers a suite of electronic systems for physicians, including an EHR which can be customized by bundling in affiliated apps. Its new partner is Genomind, a personalized medicine platform offering genetic testing for psychiatry practices.

Physicians using DrChrono will have access to two Genomind test kits, along with some analytics tools they can use to make use of the testing data.

One of the tests is Mindful DNA Professional, a genetic test used by clinicians to help them guide wellness decisions. The test targets aspects of a patient’s genetic details which could have an impact on overall health, such as variants suggesting that they could have sleep issues or a predisposition to anxiety, depression or impaired cognition.

DrChrono users will also have access to the Genecept Assay, the results of which can guide the treatment of psychiatric conditions. Once test results become available on the Genomind system, doctors can use its gene-drug-environmental interaction tool, the Genomind Drug Interaction Guide, to inform their treatment decisions. With the help of the Guide, clinicians can analyze the patient’s current medication regimen and flag gene-drug interactions.

An interesting side note to all of this is that the final test results from Genomind will be stored in the DrChrono information library for the patient and become part of the patient’s medical record.

Looked at one way, sharing the Genomind test results seems almost like a no-brainer in a world where casual genetic testing (think 23andMe) is becoming the norm. On the other, though, I don’t want to gloss over the fact that using genetic data to search for relatives is one thing and putting it into your personal medical record is quite another. It suggests that of consumer-driven demand for precision treatment is maturing, and that Genomind is on the right side of this trend.

This takes me back to DrChrono, which while not itself reinventing the wheel has struck a smart deal here. Not only has it brought a tool on board which could offer some benefit to physicians, its supporting the collection of information (genetic data) that patients are beginning to want. If DrChrono can give patients their genetic info via a decent portal, the company may find itself to be in demand with patients. Way to stay abreast of the times.

AI-Based Tech Could Speed Patient Documentation Process

Posted on August 27, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A researcher with a Google AI team, Google Brain, has published a paper describing how AI could help physicians complete patient documentation more quickly. The author, software engineer Peter Lui, contends that AI technology can speed up patient documentation considerably by predicting its content.

On my initial reading of the paper, it wasn’t clear to me what advantage this has over pre-filling templates or even allowing physicians to cut-and-paste text from previous patient encounters. Still, judge for yourself as I outline what author Liu has to say, and by all means, check out the write-up.

In its introduction, the paper notes that physicians spend a great deal of time and energy entering patient notes into EHRs, a process which is not only taxing but also demoralizing for many physicians. Choosing from just one of countless data points underscoring this conclusion, Liu cites a 2016 study noting that physicians spend almost 2 hours of administrative work for every hour of patient contact.

However, it might be possible to reduce the number of hours doctors spend on this dreary task. Google Brain has been working on technologies which can speed up the process of documentation, including a new medical language modeling approach. Liu and his colleagues are also looking at how to represent an EHR’s mix of structured and unstructured text data.

The net of all of this? Google Brain has been able to create a set of systems which, by drawing on previous patient records can predict most of the content a physician will use next time they see that patient.

The heart of this effort is the MIMIC-III dataset, which contains the de-identified electronic health records of 39,597 patients from the ICU of a large tertiary care hospital. The dataset includes patient demographic data, medications, lab results, and notes written by providers. The system includes AI capabilities which are “trained” to predict the text physicians will use in their latest patient note.

In addition to making predictions, the Google Brain AI seems to have been able to pick out some forms of errors in existing notes, including patient ages and drug names, as well as providing autocorrect options for corrupted words.

By way of caveats, the paper warns that the research used only data generated within 24 hours of the current note content. Liu points out that while this may be a wide enough range of information for ICU notes, as things happen fast there, it would be better to draw on data representing larger windows of time for non-ICU patients. In addition, Liu concedes that it won’t always be possible to predict the content of notes even if the system has absorbed all existing documentation.

However, none of these problems are insurmountable, and Liu understandably describes these results as “encouraging,” but that’s also a way of conceding that this is only an experimental conclusion. In other words, these predictive capabilities are not a done deal by any means. That being said, it seems likely that his approach could be valuable.

I am left with at least one question, though. If the Google Brain technology can predict physician notes with great fidelity, how does that differ than having the physician cut-and-paste previous notes on their own?  I may be missing something here, because I’m not a software engineer, but I’d still like to know how these predictions improve on existing workarounds.

eClinicalWorks Faces Additional Fine For Violating Terms Of Fraud Settlement

Posted on August 10, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

In mid-2017, the news broke that EHR vendor eClinicalWorks had agreed to pay $155 million to settle a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former employee. The government had accused the company of doctoring its code to cover the fact that its platform couldn’t pass certification testing,

Following the agreement with the government, eCW was hit with two class-action lawsuits related to the certification fraud, one filed by a group of clinicians over funds lost due to the certification and another by patients who say that data display errors may have affected their care.

Unfortunately for eCW, its legal troubles aren’t over. The vendor is now on the hook for a fine it incurred for failing to comply with the Corporate Integrity Agreement it signed as part of its settlement deal. The $132,500 fine probably won’t have a massive impact on the company, but it’s a reminder of how much trouble the certification problem continues to cause.

In signing the CIA, which will be in place for five years, eCW agreed to a number of things, including that it would adhere to software standards and practices, identify and address patient safety and certification issues and meet obligations to existing and future customers. eCW also promised to report patient safety issues in a timely manner.

Apparently, it didn’t do so, and that triggered the penalty stipulated in the CIA. Among the terms buried in the hefty CIA document is that the vendor would be fined $2,500 for each day eCW failed to establish and implement patient safety issues as reportable events. Somehow, the vendor let this go for almost two months. Bummer.

Of course, eCW leaders must be reeling. This has to have been the most painful year in the company’s history, without a doubt. Customers are understandably quite angry with eCW, and some of them are suing. Patients are suing. Its reputation has taken a major hit.

The financial implications of the settlement are staggering too. Very few companies could cover a $155 million payout without a struggle, and even if a business liability insurer is covering the loss, the settlement can’t be good for its relationships with financial institutions. It’s a mess I’d wish on no one.

On the other hand, am I being too harsh when I suggest that under the circumstances, letting a reporting problem go for 53 days doesn’t speak well of eCW’s recovery? Yes, I’m sure that keeping up with CIA requirements has been pretty burdensome, but we’re talking about survival here.

I’m not going to hazard a guess as to whether eCW is on the skids or just struggling to recover from a massive blow to its fundament. But geez, folks. Let’s hope you get on top of these issues soon. Violating the terms of the CIA within year two of the five-year agreement doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Some Alexa Health “Skills” Don’t Comply With Amazon Medical Policies

Posted on July 18, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

It’s becoming predictable: A company offering AI assistant for scheduling medical appointments thinks that consumers want to use Amazon’s Alexa to schedule appointments with their doctor. The company, Nimblr, is just one of an expanding number of developers that see Alexa integration as an opportunity for growth.

However, Nimblr and its peers have stepped into an environment where the standards for health applications are a bit slippery. That’s no fault of theirs, but it might affect the future of Amazon Alexa health applications, which can ultimately affect every developer that works with the Alexa interface.

Nimblr’s Holly AI has recently begun to let patients book and reschedule appointments using Alexa voice commands. According to its prepared statement, Nimblr expects to integrate with other voice command platforms as well, but Alexa is clearly an important first step.

The medical appointment service is integrated with a range of EHRs, including athenahealth, Care Cloud and DrChrono.  To use the service, doctors sign up and let Holly access their calendar and EHR.

Patients who choose to use the Amazon interface go through a scripted dialogue allowing them to set, change or cancel an appointment with their doctor. The patient uses Alexa to summon Holly, then tells Holly the doctor with whom they’d like to book an appointment. A few commands later, the patient has booked a visit. No need to sit at a computer or peer at a smartphone screen.

For Amazon, this kind of agreement is the culmination of a long-term strategy. According to an article featured in Quartz Alexa is now in roughly 20 million American homes and owns more than 70% of the US market for voice-driven assistants. Recently it’s made some power moves in healthcare — including the acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack. It’s has also worked to build connections with healthcare partners, including third-party developers that can enrich the healthcare options available to Alexa users.

Most of the activity that drives Alexa comes from “skills,” which resemble smartphone apps, made available on the Alexa store by independent developers. According to Quartz, the store hosted roughly 900 skills in its “health and fitness” category on the Alexa skills store as of mid-April.

In theory, externally-developed health skills must meet three criteria: they may not collect personal information from customers, cannot imply that they are life-saving by names and descriptions and must include a disclaimer stating that they are not medical devices — and that users should ask their providers if they believe they need medical attention.

However, according to Quartz, as of mid-April there were 65 skills in the store that didn’t provide the required disclaimer. If so, this raises questions as to how stringently Amazon supervises the skills uploaded by its third-party developers.

Let me be clear that I’m not criticizing Nimblr in any way. As far as I know, the company is doing everything the right way. My only critiques would be that it’s not clear to me why its Alexa tool is much more useful than a plain old portal, and that of the demo video is any indication, that the interactions between Alexa and the consumer are a trifle awkward. On the whole, it seems like a useful tool and will likely get better over time.

However, with a growing number of healthcare developers featuring apps Alexa’s skills store, it will be worth watching to see if Amazon enforces its own rules. If not, reputable developers like Nimblr might not want to go there.

DrChrono App Store Illustrates Important Point

Posted on July 16, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

In a recent post, my colleague John Lynn argued that EHRs won’t survive if they stick to a centralized model.  He contends — I think correctly — that ambulatory practices will need to plug best-of-class apps into their EHR system rather than accepting whatever their vendor has available. If they don’t create a flexible infrastructure, they’ll be forced to switch systems when they hit the wall with their current EHR, he writes.

Demonstrating that John, as usual, has read the writing on the wall correctly, I present you with the following. I think it illustrates John’s point exactly. I’m pointing to EHR vendor DrChrono, which just announced that billing and collections company Collectly would be available for use.

Like its peers, Collectly built on the DrChrono API, and will be available in the DrChrono App Directory on a subscription basis. (The billing company also offers custom pricing for large organizations.)

Other apps featured in the app directory include Calibrater Health, which offers text-based patient surveys; Staple Health, a machine learning platform that providers can use to manage at-risk patients and Genius Video, which sends personalized video via text message to educate patients. Payment services vendor Square is also a featured partner.

Collectly, for its part, digitizes paper bills and sends billing statements and collection notices to patients via text or email. The patient messages include a link to the patient portal which offers a billing FAQ, benefits and insurance info and a live chat feature where experts offer info on patient insurance features and payment policy. The live chat staffers can also help patients create an approved payment schedule on behalf of a practice.

While some of the DrChrono apps offer help with well-understood back-office issues – such as Health eFilings, which help practices submit accurate MIPS data –  those functions may be duplicated or at least partially available elsewhere. However, apps like Collectly offer options that EHRs and practice management platforms seldom do. The number of best of breed apps that an EHR won’t be able to replicate natively is going to continue to increase.

Integrating consumer-facing apps like this acknowledges that neither medical practice technology nor its staff is terribly well-equipped to bring in the cash from patients. It may take outside apps like Collectly, which functions like an RCM tool but talks like a patient, to bring in more patient payments in for DrChrono’s customers. In other words, it took a decentralized model to get this done. John called it.

This Futurist Says AI Will Never Replace Physicians

Posted on June 6, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Most of us would agree that AI technology has amazing — almost frightening — potential to change the healthcare world. The thing is, no one is exactly sure what form those changes will take, and some fear that AI technologies will make their work obsolete. Doctors, in particular, worry that AI will undercut their decision-making process or even take their jobs.

Their fears are not entirely misplaced. Vendors in the healthcare AI world insist that their products are intended solely to support care, but of course, they need to say that. It’s not surprising that doctors fret as AI software starts to diagnose conditions, triage patients and perform radiology readings.

But according to medical futurist Bertalan Mesko, MD, Ph.D., physicians have nothing to worry about. “AI will transform the meaning of what it means to be a doctor; some tasks will disappear while others will be added to the work routine,” Mesko writes. “However, there will never be a situation where the embodiment of automation, either a robot or an algorithm, will take the place of a doctor.”

In the article, Mesko lists five reasons why he takes this position:

  1. Empathy is irreplaceable: “Even if the array of technologies will offer brilliant solutions, it would be difficult for them to mimic empathy,” he argues. “… We will need doctors holding our hands while telling us about life-changing diagnoses, their guide to therapy and their overall support.”
  2. Physicians think creatively: “Although data, measurements and quantitative analytics are a crucial part of a doctor’s work…setting up a diagnosis and treating a patient is not a linear process. It requires creativity and problem-solving skills that algorithms and robots will ever have,” he says.
  3. Digital technologies are just tools: “It’s only doctors together with their patients who can choose [treatments], and only physicians can evaluate whether the smart algorithm came up with potentially useful suggestions,” Mesko writes.
  4. AI can’t do everything: “There are responsibilities and duties which technologies cannot perform,” he argues. “… There will always be tasks where humans will be faster, more reliable — or cheaper than technology.”
  5. AI tech isn’t competing with humans: “Technology will help bring medical professionals towards a more efficient, less error-prone and more seamless healthcare,” he says. “… The physician will have more time for the patient, the doctor can enjoy his work in healthcare will move into an overall positive direction.”

I don’t have much to add to his analysis. I largely agree with what he has to say.

I do think he may be wrong about the world needing physicians to make all diagnoses – after all, a sophisticated AI tool could access millions of data points in making patient care recommendations. However, I don’t think the need for human contact will ever go away.